Stick your nose into a copy of our “Music + Travel Worldwide: Touring the Globe Through Sounds and Scenes” and you’ll find at least a dozen global destinations, each of them home to a particular strain of music, a subculture supported by a localized cluster of clubs, record stores, venues, and hangouts. But though places like Melborne’s Pony club and Beijing’s D-22 provide the undergrounds of those cities with terrestrial meeting places, the British tradition of illegal pirate radio has provided a virtual meeting place for the communities surrounding many of the the Realm’s rising musical movements since long before the Internet was even invented. With the rise of online streaming music, however, these scrappy broadcasting entities, some of them actually footed in the dark, cold waters of the North Atlantic to avoid legal entanglements, are being replaced by web-based technologies and initiatives, causing one former pirate radio broadcaster (DJ and author Matt Mason) to take a rather sepia-toned look back at the culture of illegal aerials and hidden rooftop antennas that supported multiple sonic styles.
The fertile field in which rock, britpop, garage, acid house, and a dozen other danceable styles of English music grew, the ersatz pirate radio network included stations housed in boats floating in international waters, old anti-aircraft towers of Britain’s coast, and apartment blocks all over London. Climbing atop improvised broadcast towers on housing projects and sailing to disused sea forts, Mason reveals the surprisingly sophisticated tech behind the modern incarnation of pirate radio and the rusted, eerie former homes of some stations so dedicated to bringing their countrymen new music they were willing to defy not only the BBC, but maritime law as well. As dashing as this all is, the short documentary above underlines the fact that illegal radio is well on its way out, following listeners and programmers to the Internet, where every laptop can be a studio and every living room a legal radio station. A perfect appetizer to a Netflix viewing of last-year’s newly available, mostly fictitious nostalgia comedy about these daring broadcasters, “Pirate Radio” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Nick Frost, the mini-doc comes courtesy of the marketing team at Palladium Boots and reminds us all of how far music lovers will go to give their favorite subculture an international audience.
To experience an illegal pirate station that has gone legit on the Internet, check out Rinse FM and for more on pirate radio go to www.londonpirates.co.uk. For a world of legal and illegal musical thrills at a glance, pick up a copy of our “Music + Travel Worldwide: Touring the Globe Through Sounds and Scenes”